Saturday, June 1, 2019

Bad is in the Eye of the Beholder

Park once and party twice? Check. Bluegrass music? Check. A senseless Dada comedy? Check.

Weeks ago, I'd gotten tickets for Dog Stuff's production at Firehouse Theater of "Wrong Chopped," which was billed as theater of the absurd based on a TV show - "Chopped" - that I'd never seen.

So naturally my curiosity was piqued. Sure, I avoid TV but not theater based on TV.

But then musician Alison Self came to town and was joining the Hot Seats for Beers and Banjos at the Camel and while I neither drink the former nor play the latter, neither was a requirement. Instead, I added in a musical component to the evening.

It didn't hurt that the Camel and the Firehouse are on the same block.

Yea, yea, I had just seen Alison perform the night before at Gallery 5, but this was her singing and playing as part of Sweet Fern, her duo with Josh Bearman, who also leads bluegrass pickers the Hot Seats. As a bonus, my former J-Ward neighbors showed up and joined the party, sharing their summer music festival plans and laughs.

Sweet Fern, for the record, holds a special place in my heart because they're the duo I'd chosen to open the Listening Room set the night I curated the event. Got all that? They're reliably entertaining, with both having talent to spare, meaning they coasted through songs by Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash and their bedrock, the Carter Family.

Let's just say there were songs about cheatin' hearts, jail and a tornado that killed thirteen children in a schoolhouse. You know, everyday life, albeit with Alison's comedic comments thrown in for good measure.

They closed with a classic I'd heard them do years ago, "When I Come Home the Other Night," a duet between a drunk husband and his unfaithful wife. Josh sang the man's part, questioning the things he saw - another man's horse in the stable, someone else's coat on the rack  and, most hilarious of all, a head on the pillow next to her - while Alison sang that it was just a cabbage.

Well, I've roamed the whole world over
A thousand times or more
But a mustache on a cabbage head
I never seen before

Leaning into the mic after they finished the song, Alison joked, "Don't you know that's how you check to see if a cabbage is ripe, by its mustache?"

After their set, the Hot Seats took the stage with two fiddle players for a change and a whole lot of fast-moving, hard-pickin' songs guaranteed to get toes tapping. I know because I was mid-tap when the clock struck 7:15 and it was time to head next door to see a twisted spoof on a cooking show.

"Wrong Chopped" was most definitely Fringe Fest-worthy, what with the playwright playing keyboard in his underwear and shoes throughout, a contestant who used bones for hands to make a dish using bones (don't ask), popcorn and rice pilaf flying everywhere and a host who liked to regularly kiss the bald head of one of the judges.

Plot? Not so much. Laughs? Erratic, age-dependent and, at times, unavoidable (like when one actor tells the audience, "This is a bad play!"). References? James Bond, Hamlet, Avengers. Weird? You have no idea. Hearing my name said by the host as an acknowledgement that I was there? What the...?

As for the appearance of a teddy bear mid-show, I don't know what to tell you.

But the cast's enthusiasm and the utter lack of a linear narrative definitely made for a unique theater experience unlike any this theater-goer had ever had.

Consider me fully fringed. And couldn't we all use a little more of that in our mundane lives?

When the play ended and everyone headed back to the sane world, the couple in front of me pushed open the Firehouse's front door only to reveal what may as well have been a monsoon: driving rain, sweeping wind, puddles already over the curb and ferocious thunder and lightening.

"Is this part of the play?" the woman mused, only half kidding.

You know, I wouldn't have put it past this bunch of theater mavericks. After all, some of them were part of the group who staged the most uproarious and, for a change, politically correct "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" known to man. I know I fell in love with it, even seeing it twice.

Bless their beautiful hides. Someone's gotta be our theatrical future.

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